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Living in the nation's lightning capitol: How you can stay safe during storms

Lightning that hits the ground is 6 times hotter than sun's surface

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Five lightning deaths have already been reported in Florida in 2018, which again puts the Sunshine State on track to lead the nation with the most lightning deaths per state, according to data from the National Weather Service.

Eight people have died in the United States this year from lightning strikes, with five in Florida and one each in Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas, according to the NWS. The three most recent deaths in Florida both occurred in June. One occurred on June 11 in Margate, one on June 24 in Siesta Beach and the most recent on Wednesday June 27 in Umatilla.

According to the NWS, Florida's past ten-year average has been five fatalities per year, which 2-18 has already reached. The data indicates that most active time period for lightning strikes is June through August, with July often having the most activity.

Cloud-to-ground lightning, the type of lightning most dangerous to people, is about 60,000 degrees, which is six times hotter than the surface of the sun. Lighting also poses risks for those not directly hit; non-fatal lightning strikes in Central Florida have caused issues including house fires, structural damage and flight delays.

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With Florida's title as lightning capitol of the United States, officials from the Orlando Fire Department said knowing how to stay safe is imperative. OFD spokeswoman Ashley Papagni offered tips on how to stay safe when storms hit.

"Thunder and lightning storms happen all the time and lightning may strike as far as 10 miles
from any rain," Papagni said. "You should know what to do to keep you and your family safe when storms strike."

Outdoor Safety

Being able to hear the sound of thunder means you are within striking distance of lightning, even if you can't see it.

It's recommended to find shelter immediately should you find yourself outside during a storm. The best shelter is inside a home, large building or hard-topped vehicle. No place outside is completely safe during a storm, including roofed sports fields, golf courses, picnic areas and small sheds.

Do not go under trees for shelter, and try to move away from any tall objects, as they are more likely to get struck. NWS data shows three of the five people who died from lightning in 2018 were standing near or under trees.

If someone is struck by lightning, call 911 and get medical help immediately.
 
Indoor Safety 

Once in shelter, stay off of porches and away from windows and doors. Turn off computers and stay away from any device in direct contact with electricity or plumbing, which includes washing one's hands, bathing, showering, doing laundry or washing dishes. Cellphones are safe to use as long as they are not plugged into a wall socket.

Wait at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder before leaving shelter.

How likely is a fatal lightning strike?

NWS date states that 289 people died from lightning strikes between 2008 and 2018. 226 of those deaths were men, while 63 were women. Based on the averages from between 2008 and 2017, the NWS has calculated the odds of being struck in a year to be over one in a million.

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NWS data states that five of the 16 fatal lighting strikes in 2017 occurred in Florida -- two more than each of the other leading states. The overall total of Florida lightning fatalities decreased from 10 in 2016.

Officials from the National Fire Protection Association said U.S. local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 22,600 fires per year that were started by lightning between during 2007 and 2011.

They said those fires caused an average of nine civilian deaths, 53 civilian injuries and $451 million in direct property damage per year.